Leaders Hope ALDIs Replace Bottom Foods, Prevent Food Deserts & Job Losses

A discount supermarket chain is set to close 46 Philadelphia area stores by early next year leaving 2,200 employees searching for work while leaving local leaders worried that areas once seen as food deserts will dry up again.

Earlier this week, Delhaize Group agreed to sell all Bottom Dollar Food assets — including 66 stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio — to fellow discount grocer ALDI for $15 million. ALDI announced that it plans to close all the Bottom Dollars within the next few months.

“We are sorry to see Bottom Dollar go so quickly,” said Chester Mayor John Linder.

For years, cities like Chester and certain neighborhoods in Philadelphia and South Jersey had no supermarket. The arrival of Bottom Dollar gave these communities an opportunity to buy food and produce at affordable prices.

Just this past June, shoppers lined up around the block to celebrate the opening of Bottom Dollar, the second grocery — and only owned by a for-profit company — to open in Chester after the city went without a supermarket for more than a decade.

“We’ve proven we can sustain a market in Chester and that’s important,” said Linder. “We certainly welcome ALDI. I’m excited they’re going to come in or at least think about coming to our city.”

The optimism of a shuttered Bottom Dollar reopening as an ALDI is shared by leaders in Philadelphia.

“I’ve reached out to some people in the industry and they said what happens normally is that there will be some level of closure and they will reopen under another brand,” said Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke (District 5).

Clarke called the closures “stunning.”

“I’m obviously very concerned particularly given the fact that we recently had two constructed in our district — pretty exciting ribbon cuttings — in areas where that there was a significant need for food product.

“We really need those food stores in these neighborhoods.”

In a statement, Illinois-based ALDI USA said it’s in the “early stages of an accelerated strategic growth plan.” That plan includes opening 650 new stores — bringing the total number of ALDIs to nearly 2,000 — and adding more than 10,000 jobs by the end of 2018.

How many of the 13 South Jersey stores and 33 stores in Eastern Pennsylvania could be included in those 650 remained unclear by week’s end.

ALDI said it would be premature to share any specific plans. Clarke noted that existing leases and tax abatements that helped draw Bottom Dollars would remain in place.

“I’m hoping that we hear something quickly,” said Clarke.

The future of the Bottom Dollar Stores remains top of mind not only for Clarke but also Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said that the administration would speak to ALDI about its future plans for the closing Bottom Dollars.

Hundreds of jobs are on the line at the eight Philly stores and thousands more at other regional stores — food desert or not.

“That’s a major concern of mine,” said Linder. “That’s what’s helped make (Bottom Dollar) a success here, having people from the local community working there.”

ALDI said that they are accepting job applications online and at the ALDI division warehouse in Center Valley, Pennsylvania. “ALDI welcomes Bottom Dollar Food employees to consider applying for open positions at ALDI,” said spokeswoman Kathleen Gilgunn.

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